Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Linemen Will Compete to Protect Ben Roethlisberger's Blind Side

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Linemen Will Compete to Protect Ben Roethlisberger's Blind Side

Article excerpt

In an ideal world, Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak would have his starting five determined before training camp. Coaches and players love continuity, and the Steelers had that last year when all five starters returned and no competition was warranted.

Munchak once again has five starters returning, but there is an open competition for one spot. And it just so happens to be one of the most important positions on the entire roster.

The Steelers will depart for Saint Vincent College in Latrobe in six weeks in search of a left tackle who can protect Ben Roethlisberger's blind side.

Alejandro Villanueva is the incumbent starter after playing the final 12 games last season following Kelvin Beachum's season-ending knee injury. Beachum signed with Jacksonville in free agency and the Steelers signed veteran Ryan Harris to push Villanueva for the starting job.

"It's easier to have everything decided because you just let them play," Munchak said of constructing a line. "But I like [the competition]. It's good for both of them, anyway. Right now, we're just going to let it play out in camp, and we'll see. Once you get pads on you start playing and you see who the best five are working together, how it comes together."

In Harris, the Steelers have a veteran of 70 career starts ready to step in if Villanueva falters. Harris started all 16 games at left tackle last season for the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos and has also been a starter in Houston and Kansas City.

Harris has not taken many snaps with the first-team offense this spring and he's been exposed to playing some on the right side, too. But Munchak said not to read too much into that.

"Ryan is learning what we're doing now," Munchak said. "Right now, where he's running doesn't matter because I want him to learn. I want him to be comfortable on the right side. When we get to training camp and get the pads on those things will kind of unfold, who the best five are.

"We try to do that every year, but that will be an emphasis looking at those two guys, giving them the best chance to have the five best guys on the field. …

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